Ren Qingtai, also known as Ren Jingfeng, was born in Faku County, Liaoning Province in 1850 and died of disease in Beijing 1932. He was the first Chinese filmmaker, called by later generations the “Father of Chinese Film”.
Ren Qingtai went to Japan to learn photography when he was young and then launched the first photograph studio, “Fengtai Photo Studio” in Beijing, 1892. Although Ren did not learn photography in China, the motivation for him to learn the skill and to open his own photograph studio in China was drawn from the environment in north China where he grew up. Another factor was related to the development of Japan which became an economical and military empire in the following two decades since the Meiji Reform began in 1872. Therefore, Ren Qingtai traveled to Japan to learn Western photography.
Around the beginning of the twentieth century, foreign films gathered in China attracted a great number of Chinese audiences. But only foreigners were entitled to show and make films then. With the rise of foreign film business from Italy, France and the USA, etc. which undoubtedly stimulated directly the first Chinese filmmaker while very few Chinese people went to see the traditional Chinese “shadow play”. Ren’s motivation to make films was related to make Chinese films which cater to the enjoyment of Chinese viewers. Another reason attributed to a commercial wave that was stimulated by the new medium of film which accelerated the birth of Chinese film.
In 1905, Ren mounted a sheet against a wall outside his studio as a backdrop, and filmed several execerpts from traditional Beijing Operas acted by famous Beijing Opera artist Tan Xinpei, Thus the first film, The Battle of Mount Dingjun, was successfully made in China.
Following the success of the first film of Beijing Opera, Fengtai Studio continued to make seven films of Beijing Opera, including Chang Ban Po (1905), Green Rocky Mountain (Qing Shi Shan) (1906), Leopard (Jin Qian Bao) 1906, The Sunny Mansion (Yan Yang Lou) 1906, White Water Shoal (Bai Shui Tan) 1907, Capture Guan Sheng (Shou Guan Sheng) 1907, Spinning Cotton (1908), etc. There films were characterized by acrobatic fighting, dance movements and facial expressions. During this period, the filmmaker Ren Qingtai changed his department store into a cinema named Daguanlou Theatre which became the first Chinese cinema only showing films. The theatre promoted his film business to be more flourishing and prosperous. Fengtai Studio produced a total of eight films based on Beijing Opera from 1905 to 1909. All of them were made in Beijing and were warmly received by the public. The fact indicated that not only were Chinese films a success, but also that the aesthetic and cultural psychology of Chinese filmmaker and audience were in accordance with each other.
In 1909, a fire ruined Daguanlou Theatre and also ended all film activities of Ren Qingtai.